Ags Connolly. Wrong Again. Finstock Music

unnamed-16There’s no doubt really that Ags Connolly is the premier exponent of dyed in the wool traditional country music here in the UK. Since his 2014 debut album, How About Now, he’s carried the flag up and down the country becoming a firm live favourite while he has a growing following in Europe and also across the pond with his latest fan, none other than Tom Russell, singing his praises. Connolly’s allied to the Ameripolitan movement, helmed by Dale Watson, which champions traditional country as opposed to the pop acts who were taking over Music Row a few years back. There’s been some hope recently that the tide is turning as traditional acts such as Sturgill Simpson (initially), Tyler Childers, Joshua Hedley and, most recently, Jason James are becoming more prominent and, if that’s the case, then Connolly is perfectly placed to ride this wave.

Wrong Again won’t surprise anyone familiar to Connolly’s music. There’s the usual bucketful of tears and beers sad songs, all excellently delivered. Then And Now is essentially just Connolly and his guitar and it’s no exaggeration to say that this sounds like a long lost George Jones number as Connolly’s voice tugs at the heartstrings. In a similar manner, although with fiddle and pedal steel woven into a full band sound, The Meaning Of The Word is honky tonk perfection as is Wrong Again (You Lose A Life). Meanwhile, there’s a hint of the outlaw country of Waylon Jennings in the driving What Were You Going To Do About It with plenty of twang guitar along with swell pedal steel from Joe Harvey- Whyte (who plays a blinder throughout the album).

The Maverick’s accordionist, Michael Guerra, appeared on Connolly’s last album and he reappears here as Connolly delves into Tex-Mex on several songs. The opening number, I’ll Say When, sways with an intoxicating, south of the border, blend of exotic rhythm, liquid guitar and accordion as Connolly finds himself in yet another bar, surviving day to day in this foreign clime. On Say It Out Loud, Connolly magically transports miles of driving in his dearly departed Honda Civic from the M1 to Interstate 10 as he recalls passengers including a fellow troubadour down on his luck and a femme fatale of sorts. Finally, there’s the magnificent Lonely Nights in Austin , a song bathed in pathos with Guerra squeezing all the emotion he can out of his accordion.

Connolly throws in a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Early Morning Rain which fits into the album’s general sense of loss and sorrow. It’s a grand version with some excellent fiddle playing but its familiarity kind of makes it stick out like a sore thumb here especially as it’s much more folky than the surrounding numbers. However, he wraps the album up with what is possibly the most upbeat number he has recorded so far as Sad Songs Forever rides along with a powerful western swing element to it with jazz guitar licks, lyrical pedal steel and sawing fiddle all adding up to a grand finale.


Best of 2017

OK, decorations are coming down, it’s back to work time but before that here’s a short list of the albums that have stood out over the past year. If there’s a link it will take you a review of the album. Looking back it seems that 2017 wasn’t a bad year for music in terms of releases but a total bummer in terms of Tom Petty leaving us. Here’s hoping next year is as good so, all the best for 2018.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

cp18cdIn the year of Brexit and Trump, Chuck’s sheer love of rock’n’roll shone throughout this album. Coupled with seeing him play two blindingly great gigs this year the album’s been a regular on the stereo and in the car while Jesus Was A Social Drinker is my song of the year.


Jeremy Pinnell, Ties Of Blood And Affection

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2While Stapleton gets all the notice I think there are numerous others who are bringing out better albums and Jeremy’s second solo album is the best of the lot this year. I was privileged to host a house concert with Jeremy and Ags Connolly and it was a great occasion.


Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life

cc752a_ccb74ac415f74324bdde66d0b5f81184mv2An album of glacial purity with glimpses of Joni Mitchell in its shadows.



GospelbeacH, Another Summer Of Love

500x500Jangled sunny California music which stretches from Petty to The Jam in its inspiration.



Nathan Bell, Love > Fear (48 hours in Traitorland)

love-fear-front-coverOld fashioned protest perhaps but Bell is a powerful writer and as good a champion of “blue collar” folk as Rod Picott. And, in concert, he’s funny with it (just like Rod Picott).


Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith

the-water-of-leithRoss Wilson continues his journey into the hinterlands of folk and jazz. A wonderful and evocative album.


Eric Ambel, At The Lakeside

61ceyom7fgl-_ss500It took 12 years for Ambel to come up with this one, a bunch of songs he imagined could have been on his pub’s jukebox. Guitar album of the year.


Don Antonio, Don Antonio

cs646897-01a-bigAside from his band, Sacri Cuori, Antonio Gramantieri has worked with Howe Gelb, Dan Stewart and Alejandro Escovedo. This solo album is a magnificent retro stew of sixties soundtracks and Italian cool.


Jaime Wyatt, Felony Blues

jaime_coverA true jailbird, Wyatt’s album is part outlaw country, part Laurel Canyon country rock. For me she just beats Margo Price


Malojian, Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.

a1294981180_16Irishman Stevie Scullion conjures up a slight psychedelic trip with McCartney like melodies and Harrison’s Blue Jay Way vibes.


Best reissue/compilation

The Wynntown Marshals, After All These Years

a2597450969_16A perfect introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before. A perfect keepsake for those who are in the know.



Also of note…

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost On the Car Radio

Margo Price, All American Made

Danny & The Champions Of The World, Brilliant Light

Ags Connolly, Nothin’ Unexpected

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock

Todd Day Wait, Folk-Country-Blues

Whitney Rose, South Texas Suite

Norrie McCulloch, Bare Along The Branches

Russ Tolman. Compass & Map

John Murry, A Short History of Decay

Jim Keaveny, Put It Together

Ian Felice, In The Kingdom Of Dreams

Gill Landry, Love Rides A Dark Horse

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears 

The Sadies, Northern Passages

John Alexander, Of These Lands

There are many others which could/should be mentioned here, apologies to those I’ve either forgotten about or overlooked. In the meantime here’s the song of the year.


Jeremy Pinnell. Ties Of Blood And Affection. Sofaburn Records

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2When North Kentuckian, Jeremy Pinnell, released his first album, OH/KY, a few years back I reviewed it for Americana UK saying, “The ten songs here are all exemplars of Country tradition be it Hank or Merle or Waylon.Ties Of Blood And Affection reaffirms my thoughts back then as Pinnell spins nine songs with each and every one of them a stone cold killer, steeped in a tough country tradition and elevated at times by some killer lyrics. In his songs he inhabits badlands, honky tonks and whorehouses. His spirit is defiant and proud, past sins are to be accounted for but in the meantime there’s a life to be lived and his characters live pretty full lives.

The record swings with a brashness that harks back to Waylon Jennings’ Lonesome, On’ry & Mean; country music with a rock’n’roll heart, Jennings’ response back then to Nashville’s increasingly straight laced music, Hank Williams music for modern times. Jennings and his fellow outlaws won that battle back then but today, with Nashville again trying to lose country’s roots in favour of flavourless ‘bro country, it’s artists like Pinnell who are carrying the flag for an authentic take on what Jimmy Rogers called the white man’s blues.

An acoustic guitar leads us into the arresting opening lyrics of Ballad Of 1892 as Pinnell sings, “Laid up in the house full of hookers and wine, my baby’s in the back done committing a crime” before the band slink in with a solid country beat, slinky guitars and tough pedal steel flashing like a flick knife. Take The Wheel is somewhat sweeter despite Pinnell’s gravelly vocals on a road song that barrels along with gliding pedal steel before a road stop in a honky tonk on Feel This Right. Here Pinnell is in his comfort zone, a bar room philosopher declaring his hard won triumphs and his daily toils. He has to pay his bills but he’s got a kid and a good woman who calls him daddy and his musings are surrounded with a wonderfully realised fat backed, almost Western Swing, style, the band almost lazily laying down some excellent licks. Still in the honky tonk there’s the redemptive love song, I’m Alright With This, with Pinnell casting a gaze back on times in institutions and the days when he went to jail every time he had a beer before being saved by the love of a good woman. Again, Pinnell and the band just slay it with their nonchalant country insouciance, the guitars and pedal steel almost slipping from the speakers.

It’s this lived in aspect that makes the album so attractive. There’s a sense that this is a bunch of guys just laying down their tales, the art disguised by the ease with which they deliver the goods. Think of your favourite country song and there’s a fair bet that one of the songs here will match it. Different Kind Of Love is a sweeping declaration of affection with a Jennings’ like majesty and I Don’t Believe chugs along with some brio and a fine dose of machismo.  Ain’t Nothing Wrong is a master class in country rock with the guitar and pedal steel battling it out as the band approach the brilliance of Emmylou’s Hot Band way back then.

The album closes with another tough outlaw type song on The Way We See Heaven with Pinnell again throwing up some arresting lyrics. Here he foretells his hell raising days leading to an eternity below, not an issue as he’ll be with the ones who loved him. It’s delivered with a bewildering skewer of guitars, pedal steel and organ along with a steady outlaw country heartbeat.

The album’s out and Jeremy Pinnell embarks on a short tour of the UK, accompanied by Ags Connolly, this week. All dates here. 

Ags Connolly. Nothin’ Unexpected. At The Helm Records.


Hard-core Country fans in the UK (the ones who don’t need the word Ameripolitan explained to them) discovered a home grown hero in the shape of Ags Connolly when his debut album was released three years ago. He sang with an authentic voice and his songs mined traditional country tropes; the album cover featured Connolly alone in a bar which was festooned with portraits of country stars; Hank, Waylon, Willie, Johnny Paycheck and David Allan Coe. The opening song, When Country Was Proud, was a defiant reclamation of the tradition from the usurpers of modern day Nashville and was included in a list of the best country songs of the last 50 years by Country Music People. Not bad for a chap from Oxfordshire who recorded the album with a bunch of Scotsmen in a studio just outside Edinburgh.

Since then Connolly has been building up his support both here and in the States (where he toured last year with members of Pokey LaFarge’s band). He’s even been to Nashville where he had the opportunity to sing his salute to his favourite artist (I Saw James Hand) to the man himself. Over the three years we’ve had the opportunity to see Connolly live on four occasions and he continues to grow in stature on stage while a steady trickle of new songs into the live set whetted the appetite for a new album. Now, at long last, it’s here and suffice to say that it maintains the solid core of excellence that was evident on the first album as it also sets forth into newer territory.

Nothin’ Unexpected was again recorded in Pencaitland with the same team who turned in the tremendous honky tonk and hard core country sounds on How About Now. Producer Dean Owens is no stranger to Nashville and he helms the record with a crisp yet warm no frills approach. The band (Stuart Nisbet, Kev McGuire, Jim McDermott and Andy May) are just superb with Nisbet in particular shining as he handles electric twang, lap steel, mandolin and Dobro. May’s piano is up there with Hargus “Pig” Robbins while the rhythm section of McDermott and McGuire nail the songs be it rockabilly or border ballad. The addition of The Mavericks’ Michael Guerra on accordion and Eamon McLoughlin on fiddle on various numbers adds to the palette allowing Connolly to head to the badlands for some Tex-Mex stylings or add a back porch rusticism on occasion.

Armed thus, Connolly sets out his wares and it’s fair to say that each of the ten songs here is somewhat masterful. Aside from the lone cover of Loudon Wainwright’s I Suppose, here given a sympathetic country waltz treatment, Connolly tears down the walls of heartache with numbers such as I Hope You’re Unhappy and When The Loner Gets Lonely, the latter adorned only with guitar and accordion and a wonderful description of a barfly with only a hint of a back story. There’s some revved up rockabilly and western swing on the rollicking Neon Jail and Haunts Like This while the opener I Hope You’re Unhappy is in the grain of George Jones with Connolly’s vocals up there with The Possum. Do You Realise That Now utilises Guerra for its south of the border romanticism with Slow Burner also dipping into border territory. Connolly closes the album with a solo performance of I Should Have Closed The Book, another failed relationship song but evidence that he is a master of metaphor and simile, able to tackle age old country topics and spin a new take on them. The masterpiece here however is Fifteen Years, a country dirge with Dobro and fiddle ladling on the misery as Connolly weaves a tale as expertly as Texan masters such as Guy Clark. A wonderfully delicate and evocative recollection of tough memories it’s a song that would not be out of place on Robbie Fulks’ magnificent Upland Stories.

Nothin’ Unexpected is an excellent  album that improves on Connolly’s debut while retaining the central thrust that he is championing the core values of country music. That he does it so well is welcome and hopefully a beacon for other UK singers to follow in his footsteps.


Ags Connolly. House Concert @ Celtic Music Radio, Glasgow. Thursday 8th December


Glasgow based community radio station Celtic Music Radio opened their doors for their second House Concert following the successful debut last month with Eef Barzelay. Tonight it was country all the way as Oxfordshire based Ags Connolly dropped in to open a very brief set of Scottish dates. 2016 has been a productive year for Connolly with his second album (recorded in Scotland and produced by Dean Owens) due for release in February while he had a successful sojourn in the States touring and playing with members of Pokey Lafarge’s band. His song When Country Was Proud was named among the Top 50 country songs of the last 30 years by Country Music People magazine. In addition, his self-released album of cowboy songs will be going into its second pressing with his initial run just about sold out. The few copies he had with him tonight were quickly snapped up.

Connolly is a fierce defender of traditional country music; the music of Hank Williams, George Jones and Merle Haggard and the outlaw crew of Nelson, Jennings and David Allan Coe. His 90 minute set, composed mainly of self penned songs, proved that he has the writing and performing chops to fight his corner with many of the songs sharing the lyrical beauty (and simplicity) of his forebears, the topics familiar to anyone who has listened to these masters, heartache, drinking and heartache. He opened with A Good Memory For Pain (from his 2014 debut album How About Now) which set the scene for most of the night with its George Jones like evocation of romantic loss and hurt. With several other numbers from the debut album such as the title song, Trusty Companion, I Saw James Hand and When Country Was Proud delivered throughout the night Connolly proved why one reviewer said of him that he is England’s answer to Willie Nelson.

P1060527 copy.jpg

The intimate setting of the house concert seems to relax the performer and Connolly was in fine form as he spoke about his songs, his heroes and influences. He spoke of how before falling under the spell of his country wizards he was prepped somewhat by his love of writers working more in the folk and rock tradition before delivering two of the evening’s three covers. Loudon Wainwright’s I Suppose fitted perfectly into Connolly’s bag of hurt while his version of Leonard Cohen’s Heart Of No Companion (heard initially on a Ron Sexsmith album) was tender and heartfelt and really quite moving.

Looking to the new album the lead song I Hope You’re Unhappy showed that Connolly continues to mine the rich seam of country contradictions in love while Prisoner Of Love In A Neon Jail and When The Loner Gets Lonely should get him some award for song titles. The latter song was especially good garnering all the ingredients for a real old fashioned dusty beer stained lament. Nothin’ Unexpected, the title song of the forthcoming album is full of yearning for the supposed good old days with Connolly adding some unexpected Mexicali influences in the chorus. He explained this prior to playing another song from the album as he revealed that The Mavericks’ Michael Guerra adds accordion to some of the songs on the new album and certainly on tonight’s showing the new album will at least be the equal of its predecessor. Connolly ended the show with a song with a bang as he led the audience on a rousing version of I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock’n’Roll, a song he said he had to do at the request of his tour mates in the States as they all thought it a perfect example of UK country. They weren’t wrong.

Here’s a taster from the new album.

Joe Nisbet Jr. The Gospel According To Mr. Niz.

Listening to The McCrary Sisters’ vocals on the new single from Blue Rose Code reminded me of their blistering show back in August at Perth’s Southern Fried Festival. This also reminded me of the stellar work carried out by their Scottish band and in particular the guitar work of Joe Nisbet Jr, guitar work which had also graced Ag’s Connolly’s show a few days earlier. Nisbet is a bit of a hidden treasure. He’s worked extensively with The Proclaimers and China Crisis and is the regular go to player for Dick Gaughan and Justin Currie. He’s the one bending the strings and playing those country licks on Ags Connolly’s excellent album How About Now and was up on stage with Dougie McLean for the closing song of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Caledonia.

Seems like Mr. Nisbet and his buddy, bass player Nico Bruce, are like a Scots version of the wrecking crew, laying down some wicked music but forever in the background. I was intrigued to discover then that he had released an album at the back end of 2013 called The Gospel According To Mr. Niz, a copy of which he gracefully provided Blabber’n’Smoke with. The intrigue grew when some Googling unveiled the story behind the album of which he says, “Took 4 days to record but had been 30 years in the making.” It turns out that Joe Nisbet Sr. was an evangelical preacher and when Joe Jr. was a kid he accompanied his dad on a two-month tour of the American South with pop preaching each night accompanied by Gospel choirs. This, says Nisbet, was, “the beginning of a lifelong fascination with the classic sound of the black gospel quintets of the 40’s and 50’s.” It abided during his tenures with China Crisis and The Proclaimers but when Justin Currie persuaded Nisbet to add his vocals on Currie’s songs and then to sing himself he was finally able to make his own Gospel record which we will now delve into.

The Gospel According to Mr. Niz has 13 songs, the majority based on vocal quartet songs from the 40s and 50s with two covers  of Rev. Gary Davis and Mississippi Fred McDowell. There are no choirs or harmonies here however with Nisbet handling the vocals himself. For a guitarist who doesn’t sing he does a fine job here, his voice at times recalling John Mayall in the late sixties proving that white men can sing the blues even though the accent is sometimes not spot on. However and remarkably there are times when he almost reminds one of a young Elvis crooning the gospel, most notably on Maybe It’s You and Peace In The Valley. It’s a stripped back album, the basic set up being Nisbet on guitar, Nico Bruce on double bass and drums from Keith Burns while Neil Weir adds trumpet on occasion. Producer Phil Cunningham (of Hogmanay fame) captures the bare sound as if they were in the Sun studios, the bass snapping and slapping, the guitar threshing like Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s. There are moments however when Nisbet’s guitar wizardry is astounding, the shimmering effects on Walk With Me up there with Ry Cooder’s brooding soundtrack work.

Nisbet, not an evangelist himself, takes liberties throughout, changing and adding lyrics to suit his take on these songs. The listening experience is greatly enhanced by his notes on the songs which are enlightening and witty such as his comment on his pulverising version of I John which he says, “opens with John the Divine on Patmos and ends with Robert Fripp in Berlin.” His rendition of Joe Louis which incorporates The Walls Of Jericho as originally sung by the Dixieaires is a delight and the one occasion here when he’s compelled to add some harmonies.  While songs such as Samson & Delilah, I Am A Pilgrim and Peace In The Valley will be familiar to many I’m sure that aficionados of gospel music will find that Nesbit has delivered a very singular take on the genre, a take that is inspiring and a great listen.

I’m sure there’s more to tell here, the image of a wee Edinburgh lad in tented prayer meetings in the rural South 30 years ago surely deserves some inquiry, a sure fire documentary for the Beeb perhaps. Anyway, I’ll leave it to Mr. Nesbit Jr. to tell it more eloquently than I can manage.

Buy The Gospel According To Mr. Niz here

Southern Fried. Perth. Thursday 30th July-Sunday 2nd August 2015. Part 2


As with most festivals Southern Fried requires some juggling if one is to catch some shows and not others. Tough choices had to be made, some shows missed or only partially caught. It’s all part of the experience and after all there’s always next year. Blabber’n’Smoke caught some or all of these and apologies to those we missed. Here’s a round up of the shows we caught at The Salutation Hotel.

Della Mae

Heroes of the weekend, Della Mae played their second show of the festival at the late night Late & Southern Fried session on Friday. A world away from the Concert Hall shows Late & Southern Fried is a loose limbed and drink friendly informal set up, a wristband allowing patrons to wander “as the mood takes you” with two band shows on the ground floor and three acoustic acts upstairs at the Songwriter Sessions hosted by Dean Owens. Tonight these bluegrass belles confirmed the opinion formed at The Twa Tams that they are one of the most exciting string driven outfits around at present. While their set was similar to the pub gig there was more opportunity to marvel at their performance, songs and playing with guitarist/banjo player Courtney Hartman really coming to the fore. Celia Woodsmith was sassy as hell (if one is still allowed to use the term) and fiddler and band founder Kimber Ludiker showed why she has been named Grand National Fiddle Champion at the prestigious National Old-time Fiddlers’ Contest in the States.

Ags Connolly/Dean Owens


Ags Connolly, Oxford’s ambassador of Ameripolitan music was a late addition to the roster, an addition that was welcomed by all we met who remembered his appearances from last year. Indeed his show on the Saturday afternoon in The Salutation Hotel was almost a repeat of last years. Same time, same stage, same players (Nico Bruce and Joe Nisbet and, according to Nisbet, the same shirt he wore last year). Nevertheless a year of solid touring has sharpened Connolly’s presence. He was witty when speaking and his tough country tales of heartache and woe continue to impress. Playing favourites from his album, How About Now,  he also offered some new delights including the very impressive Prisoner Of Love In A Neon Jail and I Hope You’re Unhappy Enough To Come Back To Me. He championed Robert earl Keen on his version of Love’s a Word I Never Throw Around. Nisbet, who played guitar on How about Now was particularly impressive throwing in some fine country flecked solos particularly on the Neon Jail song while Bruce, sporting a wrist support due to his extensive rehearsals for the upcoming Gospel show, was supple and supportive on the double bass.


Dean Owens gathered together his Whisky Hearts for this performance giving the songs from his latest album Into The Sea a powerful punch. Dora, Up On The Hill and The Closer To Home were opened up with the latter approaching The Waterboys in its widescreen sound and rocking guitar from Craig Ross. It Could be Worse was even more epic with the drums pushing the song as guitar and fiddle swept upwards. Owens proved himself capable of more tender moments with a solo rendition of an old Felsons song Shine The Road which was given a Big O treatment while Valentines Day In New York had a jaunty Slim Chance skip in its beat. With many of his songs tied to his biography Owens explained the story behind Dora, saluted his father (who was in the audience) on the mighty Man From Leith and paid tribute to his late sister on the tender Evergreen. Closing with his popular Raining In Glasgow Owens showed himself at the top of his game with Into The Sea his most fully realised album so far.

Doug Seegers


Doug Seegers has a back story you couldn’t make up. A New Yorker who drifted to Nashville when hard times hit he was homeless for a while, recorded some songs one of which went viral in Sweden. This led to a recording contract and an opportunity to have Emmylou Harris appear on his debut album which has been universally praised. His appearance tonight was his UK debut and one that exploded any notions one might have had that he’d provide the soulful country groove that permeates the album, Going Down To The River. Tall, rangy, cowboy shirt and hat on, Seegers turned in a fierce honky tonk shock peppered with some Western swing backed by drummer Simon Wilhelmsson, bassist Scott Esbeck and flamboyant fiddler Barbara Lamb. Back in his homeless busking days Seegers was sometimes known as Duke the Drifter and tonight it wasn’t a huge leap to imagine him as a present day version of Luke The Drifter, a nom de plume of Hank Williams back in the days. Stretching it a bit perhaps but Seegers sang and rocked as if his life depended on it throwing in Luke like thanks to the Lord for his current good luck. He opened with Angie’s Song, the opening song from his album with its laid back seventies folk rock feel but pretty soon he was into the ball busting blues of Hard Working Man and a much tougher version of Going Down To The River than that on the album. There was gospel on Will You Ever Take The Hand Of Jesus, world weary loss on The Edge Of The World and some actual Hank on a cover of There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight. There was humour and bathos on Pour Me which was preceded by a fine tale of a cheating wife while Precious Wedding Vow should become mandatory at each proposal. Barbara Lamb on fiddle was a joy to behold, carrying all solos with a zest she added spark to Seegers’ fire on what was, for Blabber’n’Smoke, the gig of the festival.

Simon Stanley Ward.

When Blabber’n’Smoke met with Ags Connolly back in April we were talking about albums we were currently enjoying. Ags mentioned that he was really digging the debut album from Simon Stanley Ward, a London based musician who’s been pretty much a feature of the London scene for the past ten years or so. Ags also mentioned that Ward had Paul Lush from Danny & The Champs playing guitar all over the album which was incentive enough (apart from Ags’ impeccable taste) to search out this album.

Well, Ags spoke the truth as Ward’s album is one of the best UK based “Americana” albums we’ve heard in some time. Over the course of 10 songs he delves into honky tonk, bitter sweet country ballads and some rockabilly coming across, believe it or not, as the missing link between Lonnie Donegan and Dwight Yoakam. Ward has a similar nasal twang to Donegan in his voice and although there’s nothing pioneering here, like Donegan he’s a Londoner singing songs inspired by an American dream. In fact Ward homes in on this potential dilemma with his inspired song, American Voice where he admits he “never heard a whippoorwill cry at night and I don’t drink whisky, I never been in a fight” but in his defence he has been “so lonesome I could cry.” The irony here is that Ward sings this with a fine sense of braggadocio while his band of local worthies conjure up an excellent country rock skirl, fiddle blazing away before a characteristically brilliant guitar solo from Lush. The playing throughout the album is excellent. While Lush might draw in fans of The Champs the band (David Rothon (Redlands Palomino Company), pedal steel; producer Arthur Rathbone Pullen, keyboards; Geoff Easeman, bass; Neil Marsh, drums and Ben Wain, fiddle) match him with their ensemble efforts while Lorraine Wood and Laura Tenschert support Ward with some fine backing harmonies.

The album opens with a brooding guitar twang on Monster Song, a moody and remorseful apologia which summons up the ghosts of Roy Orbison and Mary Shelley, a mood immediately dispelled by the spritely rockabilly strut of 100 Days In Heaven. Trouble Somewhere weighs in with a classic pedal steel introduction as Ward and the band parade their finely honed Burritos’ styled country rock while Please Excuse me (I Feel Sorry For Myself) returns to Yoakam like hillbilly rock. There’s some more retro riffing on the Buddy Holly hiccups of Obvious To You while Homesick rattles along with a sound and vigour that recalls Dylan and The Band going pell mell in 1965. Dylan comes to mind again on the closing song, Over Here although this time it’s the latter day biblical prophet who’s mined here with an organ led soulful groove sounding like an out take from Slow Train Coming.

Elsewhere Ward delivers some finely honed sob stories. Another Page is a plaintive ballad with lonesome guitar pleadings while Behind Closed Doors is a simply beautiful and heartfelt love song. Laced with yearning pedal steel, gentle piano and wistful harmonica the song is haunting with some vivid images in the lyrics as Ward recalls a first walk around a lake with his partner “getting naked in every possible way.” Ward sings wonderfully here, wounded and lost as the song meanders to its conclusion.


Ags Connolly

Ags Connolly, from Oxford, released one of the finest country albums of last year with How About Now. Recorded outside of Edinburgh with producer Dean Owens and a fine cast of Scottish musicians (Stuart Nisbett, Kev McGuire, Jim McDermott, Andy May and Roddy Neilson) who sounded as if they were straight off the bus from Austin Texas, the album led to one reviewer calling Connolly “England’s Willie Nelson.” Connolly made his debut appearance in Glasgow last week and was kind enough to meet with Blabber’n’Smoke for a pre show beer and a chat. We started off by asking him about his recent trip to the Ameripolitan Awards in Austin.
Yeah I went out there. I spent ten days in Austin, three days in Albuquerque and I was supposed to spend five days in Nashville but because the weather was so bad flights were delayed so I missed two of the five days I was supposed to be in Nashville and that included the gig I was due to play at the Five Spot. There were loads of people supposed to come down. Will Kimbrough, Luke Bell, Pokey LaFarge and Ryan Koenig. It was a real shame. Flights were cancelled and delayed so it just didn’t happen.
The Ameripolitan Awards in Austin were great; I wrote a review of it for Country Music People. It was a great experience. I’m a recognised Ameripolitan artist but I wasn’t nominated or anything but it was just great to meet people. They didn’t know who I was at first, just the British guy hanging around but by the end of it they did saying “oh, I listened to your music” or whatever. I mean it just gives you sort of extra exposure, you know that networking thing that I’m never really good at but in that environment it was easy to do. I played a gig at the Rattle Inn and James Hand came in to watch the show just after he’d finished playing up the street at The Hole In The Wall. I’d just finished playing my song I Saw James Hand so I had to apologise to the audience and started playing it again. We caught up with each other after the show and we’re looking at ways of getting James over here to do a tour with me.
As for Nashville, well I’ve been to Austin loads of times but never Nashville so I did as much of the touristy bit as I could in the three days I had left, The Ryman Auditorium, The Cash Museum. And I saw the good and the bad side of Broadway, a lot of fairly rubbish covers bands but there are places that still have good traditional stuff and I met some really good people, just a shame I didn’t get to play the gig there.
Did you play in Albuquerque?
I was seeing family I have there, It’s a nice place, somewhat isolated and of course where they filmed Breaking Bad. I didn’t do the official Breaking Bad tour but my brother took me to a few of the places, actually better than the official tour which doesn’t go everywhere. It was pretty cool seeing the actual places but a lot of them are people’s houses so you can’t really hang around. I did one show there with Wildewood, a local band who’ve toured with The Handsome Family. It was a great little gig, held in a place that only opened for the show, opened at 8, closed at 11, but a great night.
And how has the album been doing?
It’s done well, been really well reviewed but as always it could do some more exposure. We’re going to release How About Now as a single in May to see if we can give it another push. It’s been out for about a year now so the next thing is to think about the second album and I’d like to do it up here again at Castlesound in Pentcaitland, the place was so good and all the musicians were so great.
There was a vinyl edition released
Yeah and I’ve got some with me tonight, I don’t always remember to bring them but it’s good to have them at shows because you never know who’s going to turn up and buy one. But it’s a great thing to have, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of, that record. It’s all my own thing and there’s a big picture of me on it, beautiful. My mum and dad threw out their record player years ago but my mum bought a record player because I had the vinyl out. It’s a lovely thing to have and that’s why we did it, a lot of people were asking if there was a vinyl edition so we printed up 500 of them.
What got you into country music?
I don’t really know. My dad’s not into country music, I listened to rock as a kid then I got into singer songwriters and that eventually led me to country. Bands like CSNY and the Byrds, I mean I like their albums and I listen to them but they’re not like core influences for me. I preferred writers like Leonard Cohen and Loudon Wainwright III, he’s my favourite songwriter. Some people think Gram Parsons is the essence but for me he’s the beginning, you should branch out and see why he did what he did. I’ve always had this thing where if someone references an artist or covers a song I’ve got to go and check them out. I bought a Hank Williams album before I had a clue what country music was as so many people talked about him as an influence. I loved it, not because it was country but because I really liked simple songwriting, again, like Loudon Wainwright or Ron Sexsmith, people like that and I thought there must be more of this simple songwriting and I found it in country music. It’s the home of it. I don’t mean stuff that’s really easy to write, in fact it’s really difficult to write it and make it sound really simple, that’s the genius of it.
Yeah, Hank Wangford says that when he was a rock’n’roll doctor in the late sixties he treated Gram Parsons who came into his surgery with a George Jones and Tammy Wynette album under his arm. Intrigued Hank listened to Jones and it turned his life around.
Yeah. Funny, I was talking to Hank a few weeks ago, he’s touring small villages, and I was talking to him. I gave him a copy of my album so it’s gone full circle for him from Gram to George to having an Ags Connolly record!
What are your plans for the future?
I’ll be touring with Jack Grelle in September in the UK and I’m really looking forward to that and then we’re hoping then to tour together in the States next year, that will be really cool. Jack tours around all over the States and for someone like me that would be a great experience. We’re also looking at maybe playing some dates in Italy and Croatia if we can set them up.
There seems to be an audience for Americana type music in Italy and Croatia and the like.
Yeah, Dale Watson has played a couple of festivals over there and I’ve got a couple of fans in Croatia actually, I think the internet makes it a lot easier for them to hear things.

Ags tour dates are here including some shows he’s doing with Cale Tyson on 23rd April and 9th May.

Ags Connolly. The Star Folk Club/The Fallen Angels Club. The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Tuesday 14th April.

Listening to Oxfordshire’s Ags Connolly’s debut album, How About Now, you would swear that he was born and raised in some US Southern State. On his first visit to Glasgow this notion was dispelled the moment he spoke and his chipper English accent was there for all to hear. A curious duality perhaps but rather than sing his excellent tales with his own voice (and if so in danger of coming across like a serious Adge Cutler) Connolly has immersed himself in country music, in particular the burgeoning Ameripolitan movement, and with his adoption of the genre’s musical style he’s seen fit to adopt the vocal mannerism’s of his heroes. It’s certainly a winning decision as borne out by the rave reviews the album and his live shows have gathered with Country Music People magazine declaring “Connolly is the closest we’ve ever come to an English Willie Nelson.”
An imposing figure with a natty Nashville shirt, Connolly delivered his songs of loss and woe, shaped and comforted by the demon drink, with a fine emotional thump and such conviction that  the audience were transported to Nashville’s Music Row. A Good Memory For Pain was an instantly memorable number that recalled George Jones, a thought that was reinforced by the tear jerking That’s The Last Time. On record That’s The Last Time is perfectly played by the band assembled by Edinburgh’s Dean Owens who produced the album. Live, Connolly dredged all the emotional depths of the album version with his heartworn voice and simple guitar accompaniment. Even more heartrending was his masterful rendition of She Doesn’t Need Anyone Anymore, a real tears in your beer moment but the emotional highpoint (or low point perhaps) came towards the end of the set when Connolly sang the powerful Get Out Of My Mind, his voice as rich as Charlie Rich’s was.
Elsewhere Connolly name checked his influences on the sturdy manifesto that is When Country Was Proud before describing his recent visit to Nashville where he met one of his heroes, the subject of his song, I Saw James Hand. Hand apparently arrived just as Connolly had sang the song leading him to confuse the audience by promptly singing it again. Of course Connolly played the song tonight and followed it with a fine rendition of Hand’s song, Over There, That’s Frank, a magnificently boozy honky tonk lament. Scattered through the set covers of Johnny Paycheck’s Slide Off Your Satin Sheets and Shel Silverstein’s Jennifer Johnson And Me demonstrated Connolly’s mining of country’s rich seams and with several new songs unveiled that match the quality of those he’s already recorded it seems that Connolly might just be the UK’s best country act about today.


The Star Folk Club

The Fallen Angels Club